Vietnam has a well-celebrated artistic heritage, characterized by traditional art forms such as silk painting, lacquerware, and water puppetry, but it is only in recent years that Vietnam has started to gain recognition for contemporary art as well.
Due to a lack of institutional support, contemporary Vietnamese artists have been experimenting with new media, such as performance, video, and installation in relative obscurity for over two decades. However, the situation is improving, as local patrons step forward to build collections and set up exhibition spaces, nurturing flourishing art scenes in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Check out three of the most awe-inspiring art exhibitions across the country right now.
The Outpost Art Organisation, 15/04/23 — 23/07/23
Founded in 2022 by the young collector Ariel Pham, The Outpost Art Organisation lives up to its name with a location far on the west side of Hanoi. Yet any art lover will gladly make the pilgrimage, as the exhibition spaces are thoughtfully constructed, and the programing shows remarkable rigor — joining other art centers of comparable ambition, such as the Vincom Center for Contemporary Art in Hanoi, or the Nguyen Art Foundation in Ho Chi Minh City.
After leaving the curatorial team of The Factory Contemporary Art Center (now dormant since 2021), Lê Thuận Uyên got hired as the Artistic Director of The Outpost last year, enabling her to fully spread her wings as a curator, launching the space last November with a group show of Vietnamese artists. The list included popular names such as Phan Thảo Nguyên and Nguyễn Phương Linh, however the star of the exhibit was undoubtedly veteran artist Hoàng Thanh Vĩnh Phong, whose gritty painted mattresses looked stunning in the Outpost’s pristine new galleries.
It appears that Uyên has done it again with “Peculiar Interfaces”, a group show of new media art featuring a roster of eight different artists or collectives. Only one of them is Vietnamese — Nguyễn Hoàng Giang, presenting a tongue-in-cheek video work — while the rest hail from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Germany and the Netherlands. This lineup is somewhat incredible, as it’s rare to see such an international group show in Vietnam.
Jaw dropping highlights include an “immersive real-time image processing projection (fixed data set)” by the pioneering digital artist Ryoji Ikeda, and a three channel animated video triptych by SMACK collective riffing on “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch.
Other fun and quirky works include an installation by Mario Klingemann, in which guests are invited to kneel before a split-flat board to activate AI generated aphorisms, and an installation of hand painted “portraits” commissioned by Shinseungback Kimyonghun, exploring the differences between human and computer vision.
And if none of that gets you excited, you may be interested to learn that the futuristic tunnel leading into The Outpost exhibition space makes a great spot for photo shoots.
Songs of Singularity
Galerie Quynh, 15/04/23 —03/06/23
The longest-running white cube space in Vietnam, Galerie Quynh is pretty much the blue-chip gallery of contemporary Vietnamese art. They have moved several times over the last two decades, finally settling in a tall and skinny Saigon-style building in 2017, which they built out with four separate exhibition spaces across three different floors, as well as state-of-the-art storage and a beautiful roof garden.
Currently on display is a show by the Belgium-based artist Trong Gia Nguyen — his third solo at the gallery. Born in Vietnam and raised in the United States, Trong eventually settled in Saigon for about a decade before moving to Brussels a few years ago. His work is incredibly diverse in terms of media, yet there is a steady conceptual basis to his practice, characterized by a wry sense of humor, visual wordplay, and a consistent engagement with the transcultural experience of a Viet Kieu in a post-internet world.
The grandiloquent exhibition titled “Songs of Singularity” evokes the language of epic poems such as Nguyễn Du’s “Tale of Kiều.” However, the reference to The Singularity (ie. the theoretical scenario wherein mankind and AI merge consciousness) puts us into a more futuristic context, which is fitting given the themes of technological entropy and evolving tradition running through the work as a whole.
The exhibition begins with an immersive installation of “cracked phone screens” made of iron, evoking the ornate, French-style gates and window grates which are so common in Vietnam.
Other works in the show include oil paintings which the artist composed in Google 3D Warehouse and then outsourced to different painters in Saigon for completion, and a playful series of câu đối produced by artisans in Huế, consisting of carved wooden couplets written in Vietnamese with Chinese style Nôm characters, bridged by painted text in English, saying things like “Knock Knock” or “I Got You Babe.”
For those who maintain that artistic talent is simply about being able to paint or sculpt well, this show is guaranteed to induce seething and the gnashing of teeth, but for those who appreciate conceptual art, it should prove highly stimulating.
Fragments of Soul
Centec Tower, 27/04/23 —03/06/23
For those who just want to see cool paintings and sculptures, this is the show for you.
Fragments of Soul exhibit takes place at Centec Tower, located in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 3, just steps from Turtle Lake. The space launched earlier this year with a diverse group show organized by MoTplus (one of the most exciting art collectives in Vietnam), featuring about two dozen local and international artists, including collective members Cam Xanh, Cian Duggan, and Wu Tsi-Chung. Now for the second exhibit in this space, we have a two-woman show with the work of Lập Phương and Trịnh Cẩm Nhi.
Both hailing from Hanoi, Lap Phuong is an abstract sculptor, presenting elegantly curving abstract forms of glass and metal, while Trinh Cam Nhi is a painter’s painter, presenting acrylic canvases that juxtapose flowers and chessboards to mesmerizing effect. The show is curated by the emerging curator and art writer Nguyễn Hồng Nhung, who worked with the owners of Centec to make this space a reality. You can read her article for Vietcetera about the exhibition here.
Speaking with Vietcetera, Nhung confided that although the space does not have an official name yet, she and the owners are committed to running it as an art gallery for the foreseeable future — and so, given the quality of their exhibitions so far, this is definitely a space to keep your eye on.